It’s not quite Potty Edwards but walk down Sheffield’s Moor most days and if you’re not sure what to have for tea then Ben Mills could help you make your mind up. Standing outside Crawshaws butchers shop in his striped pinny, he fills his lungs with air and bellows: “Barbecue packs, five for a tenner.”
He takes another deep breath and roars out a different option. “Come on now! Cooked chicken and a roast joint for a fiver. Grab yourself an easy tea!”
Those of us who are old enough can remember market traders shouting their wares. It still happens from time to time on Sheffield’s new Moor Market when a greengrocer wants to advertise a bargain but it’s pretty sedate. Over in Scunthorpe four years ago the local council actually banned a market trader for doing just that.
It seems a far cry from the days of Potty Edwards, not one bloke but an entire South Yorkshire family selling crockery on the city’s old Rag n Tag Market (and Barnsley and elsewhere), who would turn selling into a performance, spinning plates and cracking jokes. They called it ‘having a nobble with the customers.’*
Right now Ben, if not juggling with joints and chicken legs (although that might be an attraction!), is having a nobble with passers-by. “Big pack of chicken fillets – as you like it.”
Then, from three doors up comes an answering cry. A young man in an orange pinny is outside the Pound Bakery yelling to shoppers ideas for afters. “Try our carrot cake today. Two slices, only a pound.” Ben sniffs dismissively. “He’s not as good as me,” then he dives back into his shop for a minute to help out on cooked meats.
He is one of three employed at the shop as shouters or sellers. What I didn’t realise is that Crawshaws do this at most of their 40 or so outlets, with men – their voices carry further – bellowing from the doorway. It seems to work.
“If you are not shouting you can lose up to £400 a day. When you have two chickens for a fiver and they are sitting in the shop people are not going to buy them unless you tell them,” says Ben.
Weekends are hectic. Ben and his mates are forever bellowing out the prices and nipping back inside to serve when there’s a rush. And shouting down that bloke from the Pound Bakery.
*For more (and a book) about Potty Edwards visit http://www.pottyedwards.co.uk